Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Spoiler-Free)

As a child, Jude witnessed the murder of her parents at the hands of a mysterious stranger, who then stole her and her two sisters away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, she lives a life of privilege as his daughter, attending balls in beautiful dresses, attending school with the children of Faerie’s elite… but her mortality sets her apart from her classmates in the most degrading way, and the desire to prove herself above her tormentors consumes her.

I picked this book up purely on a whim. I thought I remembered seeing mediocre reviews for it (though looking back at the reviews now, I think I must have had it mixed up with a different book), so my hopes weren’t particularly high in terms of quality, but I was in the mood for faeries, and melodrama, and improbable romances, and venomous villains (however well-portrayed), which the book seemed to promise. But although I was right on most of those counts, it’s actually a really good book! The plot was full of intrigue and politics (and, yes, romance as well, but that mostly came across as secondary) that was really interesting, and although I didn’t always like Jude all that much, I did find her situation sympathetic.

Her relationship with her two sisters – Vivi (her older half-sister who is the true daughter of the faerie who murdered their mother) and Taryn (her human twin) – was also very interesting, as was the way her closeness to each of them, and her trust in them shifted over the course of the story. Whereas one would expect the shared trauma of having to live with their mother’s murderer would bring them together, their different approaches to dealing with their situation are one of the biggest alienating forces between them, and make for some fascinating familial drama – though that’s definitely not all that the book has going for it.

The other character who really needs to be talked about is the titular Cruel Prince, Cardan, who is the youngest prince of Faerie, and the chief of Jude and Taryn’s tormentors. Given his moniker, I was expecting him to be rather crueller than I actually found him to be; except on a few, brief occasions, he was little more than your typical entitled teenager, petty and rude more than actively cruel, and certainly nowhere near the level of viciousness that some of the other characters reached. Later in the book, he even seemed to be the one in his group of friends who’d put a stop to the bullying (or at least limit it) rather than instigate it… (Don’t get me wrong, he was definitely a git; I was just expecting worse) I also felt that the reasoning behind his fixation with Jude was rather obvious, and it was a little frustrating that Jude herself took so long to figure it out – though perhaps it was just something that she was not able to wrap her head around. I did, however, really like his character arc over the course of the story, as well as the way his relationship with Jude developed, and that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing more of in the next book – especially given the dramatic turn it took towards the end.

(An aside: Weirdly, the two stories I was most reminded of while reading this were a K-drama I was watching a little while ago, Boys Over Flowers – though The Cruel Prince is a lot more serious in tone – and Jane Austen’s Emma – for a specific reason that I won’t go into because it’s super-spoilery. They seem like they should be pretty far apart on the fiction spectrum, but somehow it works. 😅)

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